Nostalgic look at Sidmouth's former fishermen

A FISHING village in the 18th and 19th centuries, Sidmouth had 23 drifters working from stations ranged along the beach from Fort Cottage in the west to the lifeboat slip at the top of Ham Lane in 1900.

A FISHING village in the 18th and 19th centuries, Sidmouth had 23 drifters working from stations ranged along the beach from Fort Cottage in the west to the lifeboat slip at the top of Ham Lane in 1900.

But just seven years later only seven boats remained in service and today the town benefits more from tourism than from fishing, with Beer and Exmouth still having strong links with the sea.

Back in 1953 Anna Sutton, in her book A Story of Sidmouth notes "with regret and sadness" the passing of Sidmouth's old fishermen.

"In my childhood days," she writes, "it was a delight to go down by the sea. The foreshore was in those days the undisputed domain of the fisherman, who could keep his boats and bathing machines there, without hindrance.


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"Terraces of shingle enabled them to beach their boats, and dry their nets all along the shore."

Each family had its pitch, but she writes: "Old Sam Ware and his sons, Fred and Bill, have gone and sad to say none of their family are there; and so have the Hooks, Jim and Dan.

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"Dan was a popular character with his dark beard, hairy arms and hands and the far-away look in his eyes, as he related wonderful tales of the sea."

She recalls George, father of the Woolleys, describing him as "a fine figure swinging along, his handsome wrinkled face and blue eyes, the colour of which the Woolleys seemed to have borrowed from the sea (his brother 'Uncle Sam', was greeted by all)."

There were several sons. Some joined the Navy but Bob and Tom (Neebie) joined their father.

Bob was over 80 when he died and could be seen busy with his boat until the end.

She mourns the death of Neebie on January 21, 1953, in a footnote to her book: "My heart is very sad, for Neebie died this morning, just before taking his walk across the Front."

Just lines before she wrote how she could see the fisherman from her window in the early morning, "walking over to Chit collecting seagulls' eggs in their season, gathering driftwood or beach-combing."

The Hooks, Woolleys, Conants and Wares lived in Bedford Square in the garden-fronted cottage "with trellised porch" mentioned in A Poor Man's House, whose author Stephen Reynolds gave a moving and graphic account of the lives of fisherman Bob Woolley and his family, who he lived with, in his novel.

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